Monday, Aug. 12 is back-to-school day for Leon County’s public school students. Among what's new will be some extra resources to help the district’s lower income students and their families.
Most of the back-to-school talk in the past week has been about a few changes to the district’s school bus routes. A few of these will mean students will actually change buses in mid-trip, but the bulk of the changes will impact the drivers more than the kids. Certainly there has also been much focus on school safety, particularly in light of ongoing pressure from state government. But there are some other new developments in Leon County that, while perhaps a bit less urgent than bus schedules and school hardening, are worthy of note as the new year gets underway. Current School Board Chair Rosanne Wood says she and her colleagues have been concerned about the high cost of extracurricular activities, which has meant only the more affluent kids could take part.
"We've sent $1 million to the secondary schools so that more kids can afford the arts, music, football, basketball and we're trying to cut down on those fees so that more kids can participate because that's what keeps a lot of kids in school."
Wood said that help isn’t just confined to the district’s high school students. Wood explained special activity funding is also being offered to qualifying students in the lower grades.
"We're going to send money to the elementary schools for enrichment and we're sending it down on a pro-rated basis based on free and reduced (price) lunch so that the children who can least afford to go will be able to participate. That's our whole focus, enriching the lives of all of our children and giving a little extra boost to those who can't afford to do all the things that we want all of our children to experience."
And then there are the district’s littlest students. Florida has had a law mandating the availability of voluntary pre-kindergarten programs for several years. The problem has been making full-day pre-k services accessible to families with limited resources. This year, says Wood, the school district is stepping in to lend a hand.
"We're totally excited about the fact that we're going to help parents send their kids to pre-k this year for the whole day! That's a new program we're doing in Title 1 so that instead of just half-a-day, which a lot of parents can't really pull off because they work, we're going to help with the whole day so that children can go to pre-k and get ready for kindergarten because that's what makes a difference in success for children."
Wood was quick to point out that the additional money did not require a property tax increase for county residents. She credited operational savings, mostly within the district’s administrative offfice, for making the assistance programs possible.